Are you a man in your 30s finding it hard to find a soulmate? Have you ever been bullied or mocked for your physical imperfections? Did your dream of being with a certain woman get squashed by someone much better looking than you? Then Thamaasha is the perfect film for you. As I have experienced all the above, I was able to understand the pain and frustration of the film’s lead character, Sreenivasan (Vinay Forrt), all too well.
A semi-remake of the Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe, Thamaasha tells a story of people who don’t look like matinee idols. The film opens with an unflattering caricature of the leading man drawn by a student of his. Thamaasha is structured like a book with three main chapters, without any titles separating them, each chronicling the situations instrumental in shaping Sreenivasan’s emotional journey and maturity. Vinay delivers the most refined performance of his career, and this is one of those rare remakes which is superior to the original.
A 31-year-old Malayalam professor for whom balding has become a major limitation, Sreenivasan has lost nearly all hope of finding a soulmate. In one scene, he feels insulted when the principal asks a student to behave properly with a teacher who is of the same age as his father.
Sreenivasan has much in common with Ernest Borgnine’s character in Marty (1955), which told the story of a 34-year old man looking for love. If the two of them met, they would have a lot to talk about. At the suggestion of his friend Raheem (a terrific Navas Vallikunnu), Sreenivasan considers pursuing a relationship with a fellow teacher named Babitha (an appropriately quiet and mysterious Divyaprabha). This is the film’s first segment. But an unexpected development puts a dent in his heart-shaped bubble.
The second segment sees the arrival of another potential soulmate Safiya (Grace Antony, who played Simi in Kumbalangi Nights).
Like Babitha, Safiya’s character carries a mystery too. Her true intentions, however, when finally revealed, are relatively more direct compared to Babitha’s. But it’s the appearance of the heavy-set Chinnu (Chinnu Chandni Nair) that gives Sreenivasan much-needed direction and sense of purpose. Chinnu is an open book. I’m not going to say whether they end up as a couple or not because, unlike the Kannada original, Thamaasha doesn’t seem interested in finding a bride for Sreenivasan. Whether they end up together or not takes less precedence than the larger issues the film addresses, like body-shaming.
Each segment teaches Sreenivasan something about life, and so each one is equally important. But because Chinnu’s segment is bigger in terms of the conflict and emotional heft, and because it helps Sreenivasan come out of his comfort zone, one could say it’s the pivotal segment.
As Chinnu has experienced the pain of being constantly shunned and mocked, she is better equipped to handle any negative comments as opposed to Sreenivasan, who, despite his physical imperfections, expects perfection in the women he comes across. We have all gone through these emotions or seen people behave this way at some point. When Sreenivasan gets a taste of his own medicine, he is incapable of dealing with it.
The film is not only critical of Sreenivasan’s earlier attitude but also that of many ‘faceless’ individuals who post derogatory comments in the social media handles of those who are not blessed with a Sports Illustrated-friendly body or a GQ magazine-inspired taste in clothes.
In the past, we have seen uplifting films which have the main characters giving long and unrealistic speeches about accepting yourselves as well as others. Thamaasha manages to say a lot without raising its voice. Its strength comes from its actors, whose mannerisms and subtle facial expressions do most of the talking. It prefers doing all its uplifting quietly. Sometimes a gesture which says “You are okay the way you are” can be more effective and powerful than actually hearing someone utter those words. Thamaasha is that gesture.
Cast: Vinay Forrt, Chinnu Chandni Nair, Divyaprabha, Grace Antony
Rating: 4/5 stars